American biologists have discovered that the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus can infect raccoons and skunks, but cannot spread across their populations. This excludes the possibility of the formation of a new reservoir of infection in North America, scientists write in an article published by bioRxiv.
A new type of coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) can enter cells not only in humans, but also in other mammals - for example, rhesus monkeys, minks, ferrets, dogs and cats. The infection affects them almost as strongly as it does on a person. Because of this, a reservoir of infection may arise in the population of such animals - the virus spreading in it can acquire new mutations and evolve into new, more aggressive forms.
Therefore, biologists are actively studying which species of animals can become infected with the coronavirus and spread them both in urban conditions and in the wild. In a new study, American biologists led by Georgia State University (USA) professor Michael Yabsley decided to find out whether large outbreaks of coronavirus infection can occur in populations of skunks and raccoons that live almost everywhere in North America.
Scientists fear that the close relatives of these mammals, minks, are extremely vulnerable to infection with SARS-CoV-2. The spread of the virus on the farms where they are bred has already forced the authorities of the United States, Canada and some European countries to massively destroy the infected predators and prohibit their breeding.
During the work, scientists tried to infect eight skunks and raccoons with different doses of coronavirus particles. As a result, the virus entered the body of a third of raccoons and skunks. However, the animals did not suffer from high temperatures, breathing problems and other consequences of COVID-19.
Having found traces of coronavirus RNA in the body of animals, scientists tracked whether infected skunks and raccoons could transmit SARS-CoV-2 to neighbors in the cage. That did not happen. Such results cast doubt on the possibility of transmission of the virus through the populations of these animals and the formation of a reservoir of infection among them.
Yabsley and his colleagues plan to conduct similar experiments with other small predators, in whose populations a natural reservoir of coronavirus infection - ferrets, weasels and martens, can form. Scientists hope that this will help them understand what will need to be done to protect each animal species from the spread of SARS-CoV-2.
It should be added that the scientists' article was not reviewed by independent experts and was not checked by the editors of scientific journals, as is usually the case in such cases. Therefore, the conclusions from it and similar articles should be treated with caution.